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Difference Between Gunpowder and Black Powder

Gunpowder vs Black Powder

Gunpowder was discovered in China in the 9th century. Chinese alchemists were searching for a potion that would provide immortality, but instead they discovered a way to create fireworks and gunpowder. Their discovery of gunpowder led to the creation of firearms and other weapons being used by man for hunting and for the protection of their sovereign rights.
Gunpowder is defined as a chemical mixture which is subjected to a chemical change when heated or struck. It is the powder used to release a bullet, shot, shell, rocket, or missile from guns and other firearms.
The basic ingredients of gunpowder are:

Potassium nitrate (KNO3), which is the most important component because it provides the oxygen needed for the quick burning of the other ingredients.
Charcoal which provides fuel, such as, carbon.
Sulfur which is also a fuel that makes the powder stronger.

These are also the same ingredients that are used in making black powder, a term which is synonymously used with gunpowder but is actually different from it. For one, moisture can easily damage black powder causing it to burn slowly and emit smoke. Black powder is often used in the production of fireworks and in cannons. It is not suitable for use in high-powered firearms and weapons which need a faster reaction and speed. Black powder is coarser and is not as pure as gunpowder. It produces a spark when ignited, has a distinct odor, and leaves soot on the barrel.
Gunpowder is made with other ingredients that make it finer, purer, and smokeless which is necessary in firearms because smoke can be a disadvantage to soldiers during combat. The smoke that black powder produces can undermine the user’s aim, and it can point the enemy towards his location.
Black powder is suitable only for use in blank rounds, signal flares, fireworks, rocket fuel, special effects for films, and in quarrying stones, such as, granite and marble. Gunpowder is suitable for use in the production of high-powered bullets for firearms as it is hotter and faster.
While both gunpowder and black powder have similar ingredients that produce similar results at varying degrees, they are used in different ways. Black powder is the traditional powder used in old firearms while gunpowder is the powder that is being used in modern firearms.

1.Gunpowder is a chemical mixture which undergoes a chemical change when heated or struck while black powder is traditional gunpowder used in the early days of firearms.
2.Gunpowder is more refined and purer while black powder is coarser and less refined.
3.Gunpowder is smokeless while black powder produces a lot of smoke.
4.Gunpowder has a less pronounced odor than black powder.
5.Black powder flares and die easily when ignited while gunpowder does not.
6.While both can be damaged by moisture, black powder is more susceptible.
7.Black powder is suitable for fireworks, cannons, signal flares, and special effects while gunpowder is suitable for high-powered firearms and weapons.

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  1. Actually, it is more generally accepted that the term “gunpowder” applies to black powder to distinguish that from modern “smokeless powder.” (See Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster.) Worst case, “gunpowder” is a non-specific or generic term for any low or deflagrating explosive used in a gun system as a propellant.

    PS – Prior to my current position, I worked for more than a decade manufacturing smokeless propellant for reloading purposes and ammunition manufacturers.

  2. The post does not explain the difference. Reading it, one deduces that he composition is the same, the only difference is the quality of the ingredients. By the way, gunpowder it’s not smokeless, it actually produces a lot of smoke (which created a sort of fog in a protracted battle, as all accounts report)

    • Black powder will discharge at 10,000 ft per second whereas new conventional gunpowder is 100,000 ft per second

    • black powder was the only gunpowder until the late nineteenth century and was known only as gun powder until the invention of modern powder now called smokeless because of the greatly reduced amount of smoke black powder is used in antique guns because modern powder produces to high a pressure and could damage the gun and also the shooter

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